Tag Archives: scandinavia

Oslo, Bergen and fjords in Norway

Part 3 of Vacation 2014: Norway

I’m not going to lie: Norway is really as expensive as everyone says it is. The exchange rate may be a tiny better than for the Swedish krone, yet you still end up spending more money. A single adult ticket on the public transportation system costs 30 NOK. That’s about $5. For one ride. And that’s only if you buy the ticket in advance. It’s 50 NOK if you buy a ticket from the driver. Those crappy sandwiches you find at gas stations? 59 NOK, or almost $10. Twenty minute train ride from central station to Gardermoen airport? 170 NOK ($30). Joker and Kiwi are the names of supermarkets where you can find somewhat cheaper food, and if you like salmon, you are in luck. It’s probably the one type of food that is actually cheaper in Norway than anywhere else.

There are free things to do in Oslo, however. We spent a lot of time wandering around Vigeland Sculpture Park and walking on (yes, on) the Opera house. City Hall, the Royal Palace, and Parliament are all in the city centre so it’s easy to take photos (check out the carvings at City Hall!) There are also many museums related to ships and the sea, but they are all located on the Bygdøy peninsula. You can take the number 30 bus to get there or a ferry from City Hall (also costs 30 NOK if ticket is bought in advance, but it’s not part of the Ruter public transportation system so the day/weekly pass won’t work). These museums all cost around 80 or 90 NOK each, so if museums are your thing, you’ll probably want the Oslo Pass.

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Vigeland Sculpture Park

Opera House

Opera House

Fortunately for me, the conference I was working and presenting at was being held in both the Kon-Tiki Museum and the Norwegian Maritime Museum so I got in for free. The people who work at these museums are the nicest people in the world so please visit them! The Fram Museum is also quite popular (every tour bus stops there), and the Viking Ship Museum and the Norwegian Folk Museum with a 14th century stave church are also nearby.

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Kon-Tiki Museum

Instead of taking the direct train from Oslo to Bergen, we decided to do the one-day Oslo to Bergen Norway in a Nutshell route and book our own tickets. There are five different legs to this journey and it takes all day, so if you have a lot of luggage, it may be best to take the direct train to Bergen and do some day trips instead. I didn’t have enough time for that, so I had to drag my overweight suitcase with me the entire day. The first leg is the train from Oslo to Myrdal, where we had a 15 minute stop at Finse, which is the highest point along the rail line and yes, there was snow in June. Silly Norway, snow is for winter!

Along railway between Oslo and Bergen

Along railway between Oslo and Bergen

The second leg is the train from Myrdal to Flåm. It is very touristy and expensive. (The 4.5 hour journey to Myrdal costs less than the one hour ride to Flåm: 249 and 300 NOK.) It stops for a few minutes at a waterfall and music starts playing and a woman dances around. It’s odd. The good thing about it being a tourist train is that if you arrive late in Myrdal, they will wait for you.

I warned you it was weird...

I warned you it was weird…

Third leg: When we arrived in Flåm, we had two hours for lunch before hopping on the two hour ferry to Gudvangen (295 NOK). There is a luggage storage shed, but the cheapest price is 40 NOK (for one day; there are no hourly rates). The ferry was very crowded! There were definitely not enough places to sit inside so most people had to stay outside, where there are plenty of chairs. You leave your luggage on the lower deck where cars would normally go, so at least you don’t have to drag it around with you.

Fjord time!

Fjord time!

Fourth leg: Arriving in Gudvangen, you have to hop on a one hour bus to get to the train station in Voss (they make sure there are enough buses for everyone on the ferry) for 97 NOK and you can buy the ticket on the bus (cash only). Finally, the fifth leg is the 2 hour train to Bergen, which costs 189 NOK – you can buy the ticket from the machine since the counters will be closed by the time you arrive.

So fourteen hours later and 1130 NOK poorer, we made it to Bergen. Cute adorable Bergen. We did the guided walking tour of the Bryggens and Hanseatic Museums and took the funicular up for a nice view of Bergen. We also wandered a bit around the park near the Rosencrantz Tower. If you’ve gone on day trips outside of Bergen and still need to buy souvenirs when you get back, don’t worry – some tourist shops stay open until 10pm. I recommend staying at the Hotel Grand Terminus. It is literally across the street from the train station (take the exit for taxis) and breakfast is included. Great if you’re hopping on the 8am train back to Oslo like I was.

Adorable Bergen

Adorable Bergen

If you’re going to the main airport in Oslo, the train is probably the easiest option. You can buy your ticket as well as check in for your flight plus print your luggage tag for certain airlines at the central train station. Keep your train ticket though, as you will need to scan it to get through the gate at the airport. Even though this train was specifically made for the journey to the airport and there are lots of luggage racks, there are also steps to get on the train leading up to the racks so it’s a bit inconvenient if you have heavy luggage. (Seriously, why do airport trains have to make it so difficult to get luggage on the train? Most people going to and from airports have luggage! I just don’t get it.)

The view from the train was great

Such pretty nature – reminded me of New Zealand

Some advice about Norwegian trains:

1. There is free wifi but you must already have an account at NSB.no in order to use it. Make sure to sign up for an account before you get on the train because even though you can sign up as a new user while on the train, the system will only send you an SMS containing your password if you have a Norwegian mobile number. Otherwise, you’ll have to find someone on the train with a phone or laptop who will let you check your email for the password.

2. There is no first class on Norwegian trains but there is Komfort Class which is essentially the same thing. However, this class is not marked very well at all (the seats look the same as all of the others) and it’s usually half of the first carriage rather than its own carriage. There are no big 1s and 2s like on practically all other trains outside of Norway. It cost 90 NOK extra to sit in Komfort and the main difference is that you get free coffee/tea. There are no signs on the drink machine though, so make sure you don’t use it if you haven’t paid for Komfort class. A few tourists on our train used it thinking that everyone got free drinks (there’s free wifi for everyone so why not free drinks?), but later found out they had to pay for them.

Norwegian realia to come!

Celebrating Midsummer in Sweden

Part 2 of Vacation 2014: Sweden

We had one day in Stockholm and two full days in Göteborg / Gothenburg where we celebrated Midsommar / Midsummer on June 20. Yes, I did dance around the maypole with my Swedish friend.

Ready to dance!

Ready to dance!

Stockholm can be done in one day, but I wish we had more time there. From the ferry, we went straight to the central train station by metro – just make sure to follow the signs while you are still on the metro platforms as there are no signs telling you where to go once you get back up to street level. There are plenty of luggage lockers to store your stuff (machines only take coins or chip cards though, sorry Americans). We bought an SL Access 24 hour card for an astounding 115 SEK (plus 20 SEK for the card) and headed to the old town and Royal Palace. We also hopped on the ferry to Djurgården.

Colourful Stockholm

Colourful Stockholm

The train from Stockholm to Gothenburg was very nice, and express so it didn’t stop at all between the two cities. Since I booked three months in advance, it was nearly the same price to buy first class tickets as it was for second class tickets. In first class, you get free coffee/tea, snacks and wifi. You can also print your tickets so there’s no need to pick them up at the train station.

Gothenburg Opera House

Gothenburg Opera House

Gothenburg is Sweden’s second largest city, but many people say it has a different vibe compared to Stockholm. We bought the Gothenburg City Card for 355 SEK and went to Universeum, Liseberg, and hopped on the cute little tourist train the next morning before the card expired. I recommend staying at the Clarion Collection Hotel Odin near the train station since they provide free buffet breakfast AND dinner. Considering how expensive everything is in Sweden, this a great deal, and the food is quite good.

Feskekôrka (Fiskkyrkan, or Fish Church - actually a market)

Feskekôrka (Fiskkyrkan, or Fish Church – actually a market)

After Gothenburg, we headed off to Norway. The train from Gothenburg to Oslo is an NSB rather than SJ train, so you can’t print tickets or even pick them up at the station in Gothenburg. You just print out your ticket confirmation and they’ll come around to give you your ticket (which is actually a receipt). This train is a slower regional train so there are many stops, but you still have footrests and plugs at every seat, and a drinks/snacks cart that comes through the carriage every hour or so since there is no dining carriage.

Still to come… Swedish realia and Part 3: Norway!